Tea and McDonald’s? It might sound strange, but follow along with our L-theanine fueled logic.
A customer asked if certain tea pots should be used with different teas. For the purposes of this discussion, we will rule out talking about Yixing tea pots since they are specifically made to take on the flavor of the teas brewed in them. We will also assume that you wash the pots after each use.
We are talking about the other 99% of pots that most people use – ceramic, glass, iron, steel or porcelain.
Not a huge amount of pots are made from stainless steel, mainly because they are costly. Some people say that certain drinks taste better out of a bottle than a can. The craft brew industry uses cans, not to mention the entire beer industry brews in stainless steel. Almost all meals prepared in restaurants are made using stainless steel vessels. This taste difference is a myth.
Porcelain and ceramic are both made from clay. The difference is that porcelain is more refined and purified, making it harder and offering more design flexibility. That is why fancier cups and pots are made of porcelain, allowing them to make thinner and more elaborate designs.
We all know glass, and the teapots made from glass are generally on the thin side. Aside from a level of fragility, they are flavor neutral like everything else we’ve mentioned.
Iron pots are coated with enamel, and thus the metal never comes in contact with the tea.
From a pure taste perspective, none of the aforementioned materials will make any difference with regards to the taste of the tea.
But what about heat? There are some that recommend certain pots from a heat transfer perspective. For example, glass pots are generally thin so they do not insulate and therefore lose heat faster. Some say green tea would be better suited in a glass pot since it is consumed at lower temperatures versus black tea.
Iron has a higher heat transfer rate than ceramic. This is true, although you still can’t pick up either at the bottom with your bare hands. One writer mentions, “Due to their composition these pots transfer heat easily (they very quickly lose the temperature of the tea liquor)”. This is true only if you pour hot water into a cold iron pot. Think of a cast iron radiator. It holds heat for hours right? It takes a while to heat up, but once all that metal is heated – it stays warm. So simply filling up an iron pot ahead of time with hot water will ‘prime’ the pot. Once warmed up, your tea will stay warm for a long time.
Heavy ceramic pots can also be pre-warmed, especially during the winter. Incidentally we tested an insulated ceramic pot (it has a built in tea cozy) and found only a limited improvement. At the end of the experiment I asked myself who takes so long to drink tea anyway? There are other solutions – an insulated tumbler which can hold tea for a few hours or a tea candle.
In practical terms, regardless if you drink green or black tea, and assuming you are not brewing in an ice cold pot, your tea will taste exactly the same when brewed in any of these pots mentioned. Even if you switch tea types, assuming you wash the pots you should not taste remnants of previous brews.
So how does this compare to McDonald’s?
Back in the mid 80’s McDonalds tried to solve a problem that didn’t exist and came up with a novel concept that ultimately flopped. It was the McDLT.
The goal of this concoction was to keep the meat side and the toppings side in separate chambers so that you would have an extra fresh and crispy burger. The concept never took off, and people found that a big mac in the regular box sufficed versus a cumbersome box that you had to then assemble. They developed this product and spent a lot of time on a non-issue. The customer just wanted a burger, already made in the standard box they were used to. The customer never noticed any change in taste to make it worth the trouble. Although it proved to make entertaining and catchy commercials!
Back to the tea pots. Ultimately, there is no reason to over-think this. Do what feels natural. Would you drink a nice vintage of wine in a thick water glass? No. The same applies to tea. Brewing a pot of Gyokuro in a thick and stout ceramic pot will taste exactly the same as glass, but lets be honest – doesn’t green tea look better in glass? One could brew a chai frothed with milk and sugar in an iron pot, but it wouldn’t feel natural to serve chai from a heavy iron pot into a fancy porcelain tea cup.
For new tea drinkers, getting something that isn’t too “out there” would be ideal. A standard ceramic pot is just fine. And as your tastes expand, you’ll find yourself compelled and drawn to certain pots for certain types of teas. Use the pot that feels naturally good for the tea you are drinking.